Koji Murofushi was born in 1974 in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. His father, Shigenobu (now a professor at Chukyo University), formerly held the Japanese record for the hammer throw and earned the nickname of the "Iron Man of Asia" after capturing the Japanese Championships 10 consecutive times and the gold medal at five straight Asian Games. Koji's mother is a former Romanian javelin thrower.
Murofushi moved to Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, in his elementary school years and became active in track and field. He started hammer throwing during high school, after which he entered Chukyo University's School of Physical Education, the alma mater of many top-class athletes and renowned for its research and coaching in physical education. He captured a silver medal at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima and has won all four Japanese Championships held since 1995. In 1997 Murofushi became the first Japanese athlete to advance to the hammer throw World Championship finals since his father did so 21 years earlier, and placed tenth. He broke his father's national record in April 1998 with a 76.65-meter fling and has continued to set new records since. Like his father, he became Asia's hammer throw champion with a distance of 78.57 meters at the December 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. Japan's made-in-Aichi champion is now training hard for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, where he will challenge the iron men from all over the world.
Koji Murofushi enrolled in the Chukyo University Graduate School of Physical Education in April 1997 to master the rotational theory and technique of hammer throwing under the guidance of renowned professors there, including his own father, Shigenobu.
Murofushi's personal best is 78.57 meters, which he marked at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. There are heightening expectations as he nears the 80-meter mark--which would put him in the running for a medal at world-class competitions like the World Championships or Olympic Games--especially since he has been adding 2 meters to his record in each of the past few years. The first question of this interview naturally concerned his record.
"Obviously, we all want to set new records," said Murofushi. "But I think it's going to be a real challenge to keep improving on them from here on. I'm concentrating on my movement rather than my physical condition right now and trying to pick things up through trial and error." Murofushi spoke calmly, choosing each word with care. His expression was that of a seeker on the path toward perfection.
Murofushi's father was called the Iron Man of Asia who continued to break his own national record until he was 39 years old.
"I think that my father discovered the essence of movement--something I'm now searching for--fairly late in his career. I feel I've reached a fairly high level, but I still have a long way to go; if I were to become satisfied with what I've accomplished so far my record would stop improving. I'm confident I can find that essence and attain to even greater heights."
"What I'm pursuing isn't a matter of increasing the number of spins. If it were, I could do as many rotations as I wanted. What really matters is getting the most out of each spin. I'm studying how I should move in order to hurl this 16-pound object in the most effective way possible."
This may be why the hammer throw is considered a solitary sport compared to team sports like soccer. "You have to elevate yourself if you want results in hammer throwing and other track and field events. You're not trying to impress anyone; you're just interested in demonstrating what you've learned through practice. That's where the appeal of hammer throwing lies, though, and the reason why the sport has been used in education for so many years."
The opportunity for personal growth may also be the sport's biggest reward. "In the course of practicing my movement, I sometimes experience new sensations and become one with the hammer. For me, those are the moments of greatest joy. I'm sure that the higher I go, the more difficulties I will face, but at the same time I will have more to gain."
Such uncompromising efforts have turned Murofushi into a top competitor, and the Japanese public has high expectations of a strong showing at the Olympic Games in Sydney next year and beyond. "I can't say how well I'll do, but if I keep training to improve my physical strength and technique, I think the results will naturally follow. Success comes to those who've worked hard for it."
While many marathon runners go abroad for high-altitude training, Murofushi finds his present setting ideal. "Chukyo University has everything I could ask for. If it didn't I'd consider going elsewhere, but there's no need to. Also--and I feel this especially when I return from a tour--the air around Toyota is very clean and fresh. That's another thing I really like about where I am right now. I hope that the 2005 World Exposition that Aichi will be hosting will be a resounding success without affecting the greenery around here."
(Photos by Yoshimitsu Koriyama, Text by Jun Nakahara)